Where an employee wishes to initiate the grievance procedure, there is a legal requirement for him or her to do so in writing within three months of the grievance arising. The employer is then under obligation to convene a meeting to discuss the nature of the grievance. The employee also has the right of appeal if not satisfied with any decision arising from this meeting.  Reference should be made to the ACAS Code of Practice relating to the handling of formal grievances.

Key steps for employers to consider when preparing & handling a grievance:

  • Anyone who might have to deal with a grievance needs to understand the procedure and be properly trained in conducting or representing the company at the grievance meeting. Where trade unions are part of the discussions, consideration should be given to training managers in the handling of grievance matters;
  • Grievances should be addressed promptly and confidentially;
  • A copy of the procedure should be readily accessible to all employees;
  • The employee may choose to be accompanied at a grievance meeting by a work colleague or a trade union official;
  • Any recognised Trade Union(s) should be included in the process if the same grievance is raised by more than one person;
  • Ideally minor grievances should be dealt with informally, where appropriate, by the employee and his or her line manager. However, if the line manager is the subject of the grievance, then the matter should be handled by another manager. If the matter is raised by the employee in writing, a more formal approach is needed and the formal procedure should be followed;
  • Be calm and fair and aim to have as open a discussion as possible as to how the grievance might be resolved;
  • Ensure the meeting does not turn into any kind of 'disciplinary' meeting;
  • Seek external advice or mediation if you feel that this may facilitate the resolution of the matter in a demostrably fair manner;
  • Respond to the employee's grievance, in writing within the time limits specified in the procedure specifying the outcome and detailing any actions to be taken as a result of the outcome. Remind the employee that he or she has the right of appeal against the outcome and that any appeal should be made in writing giving detailed grounds for the appeal;
  • Retain records and minutes of meetings and discussions relating to the grievance. Ensure that these records are held securely and confidentially to meet the requirements of the Data Protection Act 1998.

Conduct of the meeting

Effective, open and honest communication may be the key to achieving a successful and viable outcome in resolving an employee's concerns. The meeting should be structured in a similar manner to a disciplinary meeting:

  • Introduce the relevant parties in attendance, outline the agenda for the meeting and allow for short breaks or adjournments of the meeting to allow those attending to gather their thoughts if needed; 
  • Ask the employee to state and expand upon his or her grievance and how they would like to see it resolved;
  • Invest careful thought into resolving grievances as the employee may have been bearing the grievance for a long time, it is also important to make some allowance for any visible distress the employee may be suffering; 
  • It is advisable to adjourn the meeting after any summing up to explore possible remedies for the effective resolution of the grievance; 
  • Inform the employee when he or she should expect a response to their grievance if one cannot be made at the time, bearing in mind the time limits set out in the procedure.